Image by: Deagreez, ©2018 Getty Images

Here we are at the end of 2018, heading into 2019, and when we look at our information-related business problems of today, it’s as if we're frozen in time. According to a new research report conducted by M-Files, 96% of employees still struggle to find the most recent versions of documents and files, leading 83% of workers to recreate documents that already exist.

In short, we are still talking about the same business problems we had in the 1980s, when document imaging was first introduced. These findings confirm that poor document management practices continue to impact employee productivity and operating efficiencies.

The "2019 Global Intelligent Information Management Benchmark Report" surveyed more than 1,500 office workers across the globe, spanning nine countries. Based on the results, Europe showed the highest adoption of enterprise content management (ECM) technology, especially in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. As for the rest of the world, Greg Milliken, Senior Vice President of Marketing at M-Files, tells DOCUMENT Strategy, “ECM is still seen as a nice-to-have rather than a must-have for many businesses.” In fact, only 22% of US respondents report that their organization uses an ECM solution, while worldwide adoption wasn't much better at 24%.

This is unfortunate, given the decades of work dedicated to developing technology solutions for the purpose of streamlining business operations and eliminating one of the biggest process killers—paper. Yet, even in the digital era (where the majority of information is digitally born and stays that way), the way in which humans manage this information still remains the weakest link in the chain.

Many businesses use network drives, file shares, and other means to store their documents, with little to no structure or guidance in place for users to follow. This, in turn, creates siloed information that quickly becomes out of control, unmanaged, and difficult to search through, let alone the capability to find information that users actually need. This is supported by the survey results, showing approximately half of respondents (45%) reporting that they “find searching for documents and information challenging and time-consuming.”

However, the problem isn't just isolated to searching and finding documents. A vast majority of survey respondents have trouble locating the most recent version of a document or file as well. Mr. Milliken reports that he sees a mix of companies that have versioning and use it to a degree, some that have it but aren't using it, and some that don't have it at all. “The extent of this varies across markets and horizontal segments. For example, onboarding is one area in need of training on those versioning capabilities currently in place, methodologies for proper versioning, etc.,” explains Milliken.

While there is a need for version history, tracked life cycles, etc., ECM is still seen by many as an archive—not an active (dynamic) system for full life cycle management. As a result, engineering and manufacturing businesses will follow versioning practices for products, but the back-office environments typically do not. The same holds true for non-manufacturing businesses, where versioning of contracts and other business-critical information is neglected and, for some, deemed unnecessary.

This latest report reinforces the persistent frustrations around information handling. Businesses require more intuitive ways for managing documents and related information management processes. Information management systems should behave in response to user characteristics. Users don’t care where information is stored or how it is managed—only that it is stored and findable when needed. This can be accomplished through the enhanced use of metadata, improved interoperability across multiple systems, and 24/7 accessibility, regardless of geolocation. In other words, the user interface (UI) should serve as the universal UI for the entire information ecosystem—from an outside-in perspective.

As organizations plan for the new year, Mr. Milliken advises companies to focus on intelligent information management (IIM) as a starting point, such as:
  • Assessing adoption of tools in place
  • Understanding the information environment (e.g., central repository or siloed) and thinking about where it lives and what it lives in
  • Assessing opportunities to improve business areas and how to strategically move forward (e.g., expanding use to multiple departments rather than a singular target)
If there ever was a good time to begin, it's now—before greater levels of chaos emerge. The creation of information silos must end, interoperability and access across systems is vital, and the UI must embrace and respond in the way the workforce works. If application of security and classification is a requirement, eliminating the human factor and automating these elements should be built-in.

The more you streamline information management and simplify it for the user, the greater the adoption rate will be. Remember, the user needs information to deliver business outcomes. Everything you do in relation to managing that information impacts the user. The goal should be simplicity—not complexity.

Bob Larrivee is a recognized expert in the application of advanced technologies and process improvement to solve business problems and enhance business operations. He reports on the latest information management technologies for DOCUMENT Strategy. Follow him on Twitter @BobLarrivee or visit